1921 Gibson TB-4 Tenor Banjo (12" Rim)

This is the wildest early Gibson tenor banjo I've had my hands on. How weird is this? It's got the "hollow" Kraske rim design, full tube bracket band, archtop-ish tonering design, and a huge 12" diameter for the head. Folks in the know about old Gibson banjos will... know... that this is just odd.

It's also lovely, though! The owner plays in "Celtic" GDAE tuning actually playing... Celtic... tunes. The big rim and warm-but-clean demeanor of this instrument really suit her style. She'd picked-up a big-rim Vega in the past (can it really have been 5 years ago?) previously and so now she's got twins of a sort.

Work on it was a little tedious, though, because it needed a bit of sorting-out. Previous repair attempts had left it with the neck angle bad, cruddy 4:1 geared banjo pegs (rather than the original guitar-style ones) installed at the headstock, a mixmash of non-original hooks/nuts and most of them missing, a terrible tailpiece, and a broken head.

My work included a level/dress of the frets, fitting the new head, replacement rim hardware (all vintage stuff from my parts-bins), a new bridge, new No-Knot tailpiece, armrest from my bins as well, reinstall of the original tuners (and mild repair to them), much cleaning, neck attachment modification, and setup. It plays like a champ and sounds the biz.

I changed the original neck-attachment gizmo (which is a design that's terrible and doesn't work) to one that uses a pair of the Gibson-style hanger bolts you normally see on their coordinator-rod or coordinator-rod-plus-dowel banjos of just a year or two into the future from this guy. I would ordinarily just install one if I install one at all, but because the neck is a 3-piece design, I didn't want to chance splitting the heel by drilling on-center to fit a single, so it got double instead. I know modifying this (rare) banjo is perhaps against the wishes of collectors, but functionality and practicality wins-out here as it was missing a lot of its original hardware anyhow.

So, yep, I'm a bit jealous of the owner. This instrument is fantastic and also curious and beautiful. Just feast your eyes on that trim... and the pearl nut!


daverepair said…
Lovely! I don’t play banjo, but I want one anyway!